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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Opinions of Headmasters of Primary Schools. — Auckland Expert Opinion

Opinions of Headmasters of Primary Schools.

Auckland Expert Opinion.

The Auckland 'Herald' has obtained the views of a number of Auckland headmasters regarding Dr Truby King's condemnation of the existing educational system and the new Syllabus. Their views were given independently, but they were conspicuously manimous in their condemnation of what one of their number described as a "snippet" syllabus. In every case the head-masters interviewed were men who have been teaching for a great number of years in Now Zealand schools, and who have had exceptional opportunities of studying the mental capacities of children individually and in the mass. When asked if the Syllabus, when carried out in its entirety, had had any untoward effect upon the children, the master of a big city school said : "Our pupils are not suffering in any way from overstrain, f anything in the working of the Syllabus to affect their health injuriously if the Syllabus is intelligently interpreted. School work is no longer the drudgery it was formerly. Teachers as a body take a wrong conception of the Syllabus. Certainly in its totality the Syllabus is absolutely impossible, but the discreet teacher understands the use of the pruning knife. Unless teachers are allowed to exercise large discretionary power in the working of the Syllabus it will become a curse instead of a blessing, because the attempt to carry it out in its entirety would result in the mental and physical derangement of the children. No such attempt was ever anticipated by the framers of the Syllabus, which is an eminently adjustable one."

"Is it not the fact that head-masters generally complain of the multiplicity of subjects?"

"Yes, the one serious defect in the Syllabus is the multiplicity of subjects, and a reduction in the number would be hailed with satisfaction by those who have the interests of education at heart. In addition to the subjects marked on the timetable, the teacher is expected to squeeze in lessons somehow on other subjects. Now, the practical teacher knows that if a subject is to be treated with anything like the accuracy which would make it worth while taking at all, some stated time must be spent on it every week. That time must come out of some other lesson, and might just as well be on the time-table. It is to be feared that the instruction in our schools is of a very 'scrappy' nature—many subjects attempted, none mastered. As long as the annual examinations rigidly lay down certain well-defined lines, so long will teachers endeavor to run the educational car along those lines, and such a course is death to all originality and individuality in both teacher and pupils, nullifying to a large extent the freedom offered by the new Syllabus. If the new Syllabus is to be worked in the spirit, not merely according to the letter, examinations must be altogether abolished. Frequent inspections must take their place, since it matters comparatively little what a child knows, the all-important question being how he knows it."

"Is it not a fact that, in addition to the work prescribed, admittedly of a, scrappy and perhaps indigestible character, that the burden of the child is increased by home work!"

"Well, with the exception of a few extra lessons, the whole of the scholarship work in this school is done during school hours, and the home work can be easily covered in from one hour to one hour and a-half."

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The head-master of a large suburban school, when approached on the subject of the Syllabus, said he had no hesitation in saying that the Syllabus was overcrowded, although he thought it was constructed upon right principles. When asked if he could instance cases where the Syllabus had been responsible for the mental or physical breakdown in the health of individual children, this gentleman said :

"I don't know of a case where it might be said that a breakdown was attributable solely to the work entailed under the new Syllabus. Of course, if children who are poorly nourished or have, as some have to do, to work before and after school hours, and sometimes till ten o'clock at night, are unequal to the strain, then that should not be debited to the Syllabus. What I do complain about is the indefinite character of the Syllabus. Arithmetic has been eased in a way, the problems and mechanical work have been simplified, but too much is attempted in the lower classes. If fewer rules were taught there, then these lower classes would be instructed more thoroughly. In the old Syllabus Standard I. required to know only addition and multiplication, and in Standard II. they require to learn addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. Now, although smaller numbers are dealt with, the whole four rules are taught in Standard I., and in Standard II. these four rules are applied to money. Under the old Syllabus I always felt" that children in Standard I. were perfect in addition and multiplication. Standard II, was equally proficient in the four simple rules, and a greater amount of the time could be devoted to solving problems involving two or three principles. With regard to Standard V., fractions formed the groundwork. Now the Standard has to deal with decimals and the metric system, which we do not use at present, and measuration of rectangular areas. There is in the Syllabus too great a mixture of subjects."

"But do the children suffer by this mixture?"

"They must suffer, because there is not the time allowed for teaching. We cannot linger over the lessons. There is too much hurry-scurry, or rather, there would be if the Syllabus were rigidly adhered to."

The head-master of a large city school also complained of the Syllabus, which he described as a "snippet syllabus." When asked whether, if the teaching as laid down in the Syllabus, was carried out in its entirety the health of the children would be prejudiced in any way, he said: "I will not have the children pushed. It is not so much the amount of work that I would complain of, but the great range of subjects required to be taught. For example, is it fair to examine a class in science for over an hour, when for the whole year, providing the children have not missed a lesson, only forty-Three hours' instruction in that one subject has been given? If the inspectors require facts from the children they will get them, but at the expense of the cultivation of their observative faculties. A child may be stuffed with facts, which it can rattle off parrot fashion, but that is not teaching. The Syllabus is too ambitious. It is a collection of reforms. Every reformer has got something put into the Syllabus but we are waiting for the reformer who shall say what must come out. American educationists are now realising that the widening of the school syllabus is due to reformers, but that no one has yet arisen to say what shall be dispensed with to make room for the new subjects. I have children in my school whom I will not force. I know they could not stand it if they were pushed at all. They would suffer from headache, and the work would be a bugbear to them instead of a pleasure. As it really is, I think you may take it that the pressure of the new Syllabus on the children will depend upon the way the inspectors view it. Young teachers will feel that they must do all they can to stand well with the inspectors, and if the inspectors demand information, then they will get it. It is quite difficult for even an inspector to assess the value of the development of the observative faculties. If the new Syllabus is carried out in its entiret and literally interpreted by the inspectors—well, I think the boys could be got through, but the girls—no."

Another headmaster who has charge of one of the principal schools of the district, on being seen, stated : "The Syllabus we are working under at present is just what the inspector like to make it. If he chooses to exact everything that could be exacted, it would be quite unworkable, but if interpreted in a reasonable manner it is a syllabus under which we can do good work. The Syllabus is framed on right lines, and the spirit of it is calculated to encourage freedom of thought and action, and to develop the powers of observation. Still, if interpreted strictly according to the letter, it is liable to become an intolerable burden."

"Do you consider that the Syllabus is being interpreted too strictly?"

"Yes. I would say unhesitatingly that we are being asked to do too much. The Syllabus is really intended largely as a page 21 guide, but there seems to be a disposition to make it a law and to enforce it in the letter rather than in the spirit. The education of the children would be far more thorough, and the results would be much better in every way, were the Syllabus more restricted."

"You are of opinion that certain subject might be eliminated ?"

"Yes, or curtailed. For instance, there is too much geography and too much drawing. At present the cookery, woodwork, and other manual subjects also make a great inroad upon the time. I am not by any means hostile to technical instruction, and agree that it is an excellent form of education, but the point I wish to emphasise is that we are required to take all these subjects in addition to what we took before. Then, again, if all Colonel Loveday's requirements in respect to cadet corps are complied with, it means the taking up of much more time. He insists that in order to qualify for the capitation grant the boy8 should go through a course of class-firing; but, of course, a visit to the Penrose range in charge of teachers means fresh inroads on their time. The cadet movement is a first-rate one, but when, as I have already said we are expected to take all the new subjects, in addition to what we took before, it is straining matters too far."

Asked whether he had noticed any physical ill effects on the children, the teacher said he did not think the children were being overburdened to this extent, is might be the case in regard to some of the high schools, where a great deal of home work was given. The headmaster added that he had power to put children back when the work was proving too much for them, and that he had not noticed any signs of physical deterioration though over-study.